It was 10:00 pm. Phones were taken out and Ubers booked. I decided to take the auto – a choice I made in the moment, since my house was less than a 15-minute ride away. It was, maybe the energy I’d gathered through the workshop’s sensible discourse, that also reaffirmed a sense of confidence in myself more than the world.
“Fixated one moment, repulsed the next. Distracted one moment, in rage the next. In case this sounds familiar to you and you have found yourself wondering – “How can I develop inner integrity that keeps me resilient in a volatile world?” – then this workshop is for you!”
It was these very words that made me head to a session titled: Unbecoming: A Path To Inner Peace In An Imperfect World, on the eve of April 20. What awaited me was a warm, all-women gathering huddled in the discourse, sharing their stories of strength and composure as women who dare to become the responsible cogs of this society, fighting odds and mostly for our lives. The popular but untrue adage, which tells the world that only a woman is another woman’s enemy is untrue. In today’s hostile reality, only a woman can be a woman’s strength. With my inner strength filled to the brim, I bid farewell to my sisters in the workshop.
As I exited the venue, an aged autowallah was passing by. The man agreed to the drop and I decided to get on. He was an old man with a gentle air around him. I was planning on looking up the reading material that was discussed in the workshop when I noticed a car trying to match my auto’s speed. It didn’t take much time for the fear to reappear.
As we crossed Kalkaji, the white hatchback with dark windows started to match its pace with the auto rickshaw, following us. It then lined itself next to my auto; the man at the driver’s seat rolled down his window and started gesturing towards me to come inside his car.
He looked certain of what he was asking for. He was assertive in his manner and seemed well rehearsed with this kind of behavior. The way he looked at me – it appeared that he was commanding me to just step out of the auto and into his car.
I wondered at that moment – that after that wonderful session, all those reaffirmations of strength, all it took was a predatory man to reduce me to a walking piece of flesh being demanded to step into his car. At that moment, far from an independent woman who was trying to make a living, I was a helpless person trying to survive. Hell, even the cotton dress I was wearing felt like a bad idea!
The auto wallah was an old chap who for a second looked at me through his rearview mirror and in the next one, looked at the car driver. The guy in the car was confident, the auto wallah had absolute fear in his eyes. Stranded between the two men, an all-pervasive dread began to take over me.
In a matter of minutes, the car sped ahead of my auto rickshaw and began to move ahead of my vehicle. At this point, as perhaps all women who commute at night do sometimes when faced with a similar situation, I called my friend and focused on memorizing the car’s make and number. Huddled in and trying to maintain my calm while scared out of my wits, I could only hear the noise of band baaja, and not my friend… I figured he was attending a wedding. In a matter of minutes, I felt reduced to a victim, scared for her life.
The car now began to match its pace with my auto rickshaw once again. The man on the driver’s seat began to gesture to me once again. I was on the verge of panic by this time as more thoughts started streaming in and I decided to look away from him. I didn’t know how many men were in that car or what his or their intentions were. He had this nonchalant way of asking me through gestures to leave my auto then and there and get down.
Tired of feeling scared, I decided to call 100 at exactly 10:10 PM. After a long dial tone, a lady answered. In a state of panic, I gave her as many details as I could. White color. Hatchback car. Tinted glass. I’m on this route. On my way home. From CR Park. The Kalkaji>Kailash Colony>Lajpat Nagar route. The car number is so and so.
By this point, I had memorized the car number but couldn’t see the car anymore. I somehow also made it home and now began to wait for the cops to respond. I expected the police to attend to the matter and catch the perpetrator using all the details I had provided. I thought that they might send the PCR van. I thought they might come over to my house to check if I was safe. Or, they might call me to gather more information. But none of this happened. I couldn’t shake what had just transpired – or the fact that in a matter of minutes, I had changed from a woman who was coming back feeling all resilient from a women’s group gathering to a someone who got scared for her life and now felt very vulnerable.
The cops called. After more than an hour. Once. Twice. Thrice. Three men with varying degrees of ignorance couldn’t make calls to their traffic check posts to spot the car whose number I had shared. The third call at 11:37 pm was the worst one. The complacent cop called me and asked in a laidback manner, “Did you call 100?”
Exasperatedly, I said, “Yes!”
“Really? You tell me, what happened? Have you found the car? The owner?”
What followed after that was harrowing, to say the least. This constable told me that it was not possible to find the car as I did not give them all the details. He said that since their RTO office is shut, they cannot find the car. After further inquiry and pressurizing him to act upon the matter, he asked me my name and my address in a threatening manner. After repeated inquiry, this constable hung up on me (attached call recording with this constable). No PCR van was sent, no calls were made to check whether I was safe. I kept tweeting about it and tagged Delhi Police in all my posts, but there was no response.
Standing in my balcony, staring at my phone at this moment, I began to realize how easy it was for those men to simply abduct me that night. I also wondered how many women must be getting abducted and raped at that very moment because of the cops like the ones I had spoken to who could not do their job. Grievance redressal needed grief, but what I had at that point was rage and a feeling of betrayal from a system that was supposedly in place to keep citizens like me safe. I also began to question what was the point of 100 and why to rely on it when it did nothing to help me that night.
Being a journalist, I decided to walk the talk and get the FIR filed the next day. More than myself, this was about something bigger, beyond the media activism and political stunts to glorify the cause of our empowerment. All it takes is a moment for an animal on the road to reduce us to a pile of flesh, and, a so-called system ‘in place’ to make us feel helpless.
The entire night nobody from the police followed up to check whether I was safe. The next morning, I went to the police station with rage in my heart and was relieved to see a slightly empathetic woman constable. I told her my entire story, some leftover tears still flowing and my anger bubbling up. The constable who took my last call was called. The male constable was scolded by the lady police officer. He was told to apologize to me for his behavior but he kept staring at my complaint letter.
He sat in the chair without any feeling of remorse or apology. I looked at the lady police officer and realized he was not even scared of her. It had been five minutes and he kept staring at my complaint letter with a stone face and a lack of interest. He turned the page of the letter and was now staring at my house address. Earlier male constables used to threaten you by staring at your breasts in a lecherous manner or by asking you uncomfortable questions, but now they stare at your house address. If you have told them that you live independently, you would know that it is not going to be easy.
It has been four days since the incident took place. It has changed the way I look at myself in a country which does not bother to hold itself accountable for what it does to its women on a daily basis. There is a problem with the way India has institutionally signaled to women that we do not matter as much as men do. It reminds us that men hold the power.
As a woman, you may be on the top of the career ladder, but men will have the ability to grope, catcall, eve-tease, stare, molest, harass and even rape you on a daily basis. You may be a senior at work, but the junior male officer will not listen to your orders. You’ll meet uninterested constables and senior male police officers who will make you feel as if they are doing you a favor by doing their job on a Sunday. You’ll meet uninterested male colleagues and male friends who will tell you, “It is up to you if you want to file the complaint but is it worth fighting this case?” or “You should just be feeling grateful that you are safe and sound and nothing happened that night.”
My family and friends have been very supportive and encouraging even to help me file the complaint against the perpetrator and against the male constable. They have stood by me and helped me take it forward. But I wonder how many women have the privilege to do so. A lot of women drop out of college as a result of such experiences. Men hinder women and their ability to participate in the workforce in multiple ways. I am deeply bothered by how this does not affect anybody.
I do not yet know what will happen to my investigation, and that even if my harasser is found, he will understand just how vulnerability can make a woman feel and how can it kill her spirit and confidence to even step out. I do not know if the male constable will be able to become an empathetic human being once he is fired from his job.
However, I do know that the source of real values is not in exterior things but in the heart; that is what makes the charm of the world we inhabit. Therefore, I will chase away this structure called patriarchy merely by being present with my dreams, desires, pleasures, emotions, inventions. For this very reason, I filed my complaint.
I refuse the heavy sleep in which humanity sinks. If we don’t report instances of sexual violence and abuse, we ourselves make it the new norm. If we continue to let male police officers show the worst of themselves in their positions of power, then probably we deserve that treatment and have played an equal role in emboldening their intentions to crush the spirits of millions of young women. Now is not the time, rest up. I am also working on my mind and body and can’t wait to use the force of my soul and my energy to employ total commitment to crushing these systems which have been continuing to crush us since time immemorial.